As I awoke to resume watch around 3:00 am, the waning gibbous moon was at midsky. The night was peaceful as the 3-5 foot waves rolled beneath the boat from the northwest. Radar revealed a line of showers to our north, but they seemed to be moving westwardly and did not reveal an immediate threat.
At 5:30 am, after wasting a little time out in the gulf in order to make our entry into San Carlos Bay with daylight, we lowered both sails and fired up the twin diesels. Remarkably, as we entered the bay we saw our first dolphins of the trip. There were three which crossed in front of us. The sky also turned ominous with dark clouds interspersed with streaks of lightning looming ahead. The dark brushstrokes of rain showers filled the sky around us. I put on my poncho expecting the worst. Once again, however, we were blessed to have only received about 5 minutes of moderate rain. There was no significant lightning or thunder directly overhead.
As we made our way under Span A of the Sanibel Causeway, it was cause for minor panic on Cindy’s part. We had just, yesterday, watched a video of a sailboat going under a bridge and losing its mast because the clearance was not sufficient. Our mast is just shy of 65 feet. The vertical clearance for Span A is 70 feet. So, I knew (intellectually, that is) that we would make it easily. But, no matter what one’s mind tells him about the logical impossibility of losing his mast, the heart palpitates with fear as one approaches the span. Cindy was certain our mast was a goner. I must confess that, on our approach, I had some trepidation as well. Of course, we cleared it with ease.
As the day dawned, we made our way through some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. The landscape was littered with seemingly dozens of small islands covered with mangroves. Florida waterfowl played in this wildlife Disneyland. And, we saw boats. It is hard to believe, but from the time we entered the gulf until the time we exited the gulf, we saw no other boats of any kind. Here was evidence that the human race did still exist. We made our way north until we reached the Okeechobee waterway, at which time we made a 90 degree turn to port and motored for another hour or so until we reached our planned anchorage, the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This place is exceedingly beautiful and the anchorage is well protected. There is a large area of 5-6 foot deep water in which to drop an anchor. Many boats could fit in this anchorage, but there were only two when we arrived. We’ll have to come back another time when we can actually visit the wildlife refuge, which offers nature walks and canoe trips. There are reportedly a number of Florida alligators, anhinga “snakebirds”, egrets, storks, great blue herons, and a number of other species.
We anchored at 9:20, did a little boat picking up after the at times boisterous trip, and took showers (after I caught a quick cat nap). We had some of the most delicious BLT sandwiches for lunch and then went exploring in the dinghy. Unfortunately, our explorations were thwarted. Due to low tide and sand bars, access to the island was limited (unless we wanted to dinghy quite a distance). So, after a little exploration from our dinghy we decided to head back to Beatitude and simply relax. The two boats that were there when we left had departed. We had this fantastically beautiful anchorage all to ourselves. Wow!
The day was completed by a beautiful sunset, some burgers, hot dogs, and corn on the grill, a card game of “10 Down” (which I won, of course), and a movie, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” Cindy, Christy, and I had watched the first two installments of the trilogy before beginning our 6-day adventure. It was much better the second time around!